Review: Playing for the Devil’s Fire

fireTitle: Playing for the Devil’s Fire
Author: Phillippe Diederich
Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press
Pages: 245
Genre: Mystery
Review copy: Final copy via publisher
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Thirteen-year-old Boli and his friends are deep in the middle of a game of marbles. An older boy named Mosca has won the prized Devil’s Fire marble. His pals are jealous and want to win it away from him. This is Izayoc, the place of tears, a small pueblo in a tiny valley west of Mexico City where nothing much happens. It’s a typical hot Sunday morning except that on the way to church someone discovers the severed head of Enrique Quintanilla propped on the ledge of one of the cement planters in the plaza and everything changes. Not apocalyptic changes, like phalanxes of men riding on horses with stingers for tails, but subtle ones: poor neighbors turning up with brand-new SUVs, pimpled teens with fancy girls hanging off them. Boli’s parents leave for Toluca and don’t arrive at their destination. No one will talk about it. A washed out masked wrestler turns up one day, a man only interested in finding his next meal. Boli hopes to inspire the luchador to set out with him to find his parents.

Review: A severed head and another dead body with missing fingers are the two most obvious clues that things are changing in the small town of Izayoc. The name Izayoc is Nahuatl and means the place of tears which rapidly becomes a more and more accurate description. There are multiple grisly scenes and many heart-breaking moments throughout the book. Boli’s story is haunting and difficult to read, but is well worth the time and potential tears.

My heart ached for Boli as he watched his world crumble. The horrifying deaths are bad enough, but the shattering of trust is also devastating. Law enforcement is no help when his family goes missing and it’s hard to know where the loyalties of neighbors and strangers may lie on any given day. Boli is a pretty trusting kid initially. He is slow to believe the evidence staring at him. He hangs out with some kids who curse and fantasizes about an older girl, but he is a pretty innocent child as the story begins to unfold. He idolized luchadores and wants to be a hero like them – not a superhero, but a real person who is responsible for fighting crime and also happens to get the girl in the end. Unfortunately, Boli and his town become witness to plenty of crime to fight, but it’s not like in the movies or lucha libre. The crime and violence is all too real and can be downright gruesome.

Boli mainly places his trust in his family and his faith. He does have questions though. Father Gregorio teaches that one shouldn’t question God’s motives for what happens to people. Boli ponders the idea that life is a journey of living, suffering and dying. This type of thinking seems to keep people trapped in their situations though. His friend Mosca tells him that Catholicism is “all a fairy tale made up by the priests. All they wanted was to enslave the Indians and steal the gold of the Aztecs.”

Diederich does several things very well. He is able to dig a little into theology and religion without becoming preachy and dry. He also paints the scenes thoroughly. This book has a movie-like quality. This is where Diederich’s experience as a photographer may have been a big benefit. The dead bodies, trash heaps, marble games and lucha libre matches along with so many other situations are vividly described. One could say that sometimes maybe they’re even almost too vivid for comfort. Diederich also created memorable characters who wormed their way into my heart. Boli is facing enormous challenges but meets them with resilience for the most part. His sister Gaby also persists in spite of fear and heartache. Their abuela is experiencing dementia, but is also a strong force in their lives. I love the relationship Boli has with her. He appreciates her ability to laugh and hold onto whatever joke is bringing her joy. And then there is the washed up wrestler who stumbles into their lives and provides hope for Boli.

The story is set in Mexico and there are Spanish words and phrases present, but the author does provide a glossary. Like many of the events in the book, the words can be harsh, but they fit the situations and the characters and enrich the story.

Recommendation: Buy it now. This is a book that takes a hard look at the devastation that can come along with the drug business and the heavy toll it can take on individuals. This is a book that will stay in my memory for a long time to come.

Blog Tour: To learn more about the book and author, visit The Pirate Tree tomorrow.

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New Releases

We found one new release this week by Lygia Penaflor. If you know of others, let us know.

jossUnscripted Joss Byrd: A Novel by Lygia Day Peñaflor
Roaring Brook Press

Hollywood critics agree. Joss Byrd is “fiercely emotional,” a young actress with “complete conviction,” and a “powerhouse.”

Joss Byrd is America’s most celebrated young actress, but on the set of her latest project, a gritty indie film called The Locals, Joss’s life is far from glamorous. While struggling with her mother’s expectations, a crush on her movie brother, and a secret that could end her career, Joss must pull off a performance worthy of a star. When her renowned, charismatic director demands more than she is ready to deliver, Joss must go off-script to stay true to herself. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

lostTitle: Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas #1)
Author: Zoraida Córdova
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Pages: 336
Genre: Fantasy
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: September 6, 2016

Summary: Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange marks on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review: Portals, cantos, ghosts, love, blood, monsters, death and more are swirling around in Alejandra’s life. In spite of this, Alejandra, or Alex as she’s also called, is reluctant to take on the role of bruja. She’s holding onto secrets that have convinced her to avoid awaking her powers.

Alex comes from a long line of magic. Everyone else in her family seems to see magic as a blessing rather than the curse Alex feels. Most of them are busy trying to change Alex’s mind, but even so, there is a feeling of love and support as they prepare for her Deathday celebration. When it all goes horribly wrong, Alex is determined to fix everything. Family bonds of love are what keep her going through nightmarish conditions as she attempts to find and rescue her family.

Speaking of nightmares, there are some seriously creepy creatures and beings along Alex’s journey. One animal Alex and her guide Nova encounter is described this way, “it’s what you get if a saber-toothed tiger and a snake demon had a baby.” Of course those horrific monsters are stalking and attacking Nova and Alex which is more than a little unpleasant for them. It’s not a terror-filled book, but has a nice dose of chills throughout that keeps things interesting.

I enjoyed the land of Los Lagos with it’s many different landscapes and inhabitants. The journey itself seemed a bit like an obstacle course with one trial after another through many types of terrains. This is a fairly traditional type of fantasy journey, but still managed to seem somewhat unique.

As for the characters, Alex is coming to grips with who she is and deciding who she wants to be. I appreciated her attempts to be true to herself. She only has one close friend in the beginning, Rishi. Readers get to know Rishi, but not as well as I would have liked. Alex describes her as a calming presence and they are close, or at least as close as they can be with all of Alex’s secrets. Nova is a newer addition to Alex’s life. He’s obviously attractive, but Alex has trouble determining whether he’s trustworthy. In addition to these three, Alex’s family members play roles intermittently in the book. With three central characters you may be wondering about a love triangle. Yes, that happens here to a certain extent, but the shape of their relationships made sense in my mind and didn’t detract from the story.

The author provides an author’s note about brujas and some of the other terms she used in the book. Bruja is a Spanish word meaning witch. She was not basing the story on the brujeria faith, but she did chose to use the word bruja rather than witch because “Alex’s ancestors come from Ecuador, Spain, Africa, Mexico, and the Caribbean. Her magic is like Latin America–a combination of the old world and new.” Córdova explains how she created some of the elements of this book like the Deathday ceremony with inspiration from the Day of the Dead and Santeria. I appreciated learning about the many influences and some of the factors in her creative decisions.

Recommendation: If you want a quick and action packed fantasy, get it as soon as you can. Labyrinth Lost satisfies a hunger for magic and wonder.

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Join Us for a Group Discussion

We’re happy to announce a group discussion for next month. We’ll be reading A Wish After Midnight and the sequel The Door at the Crossroads by Zetta Elliott. Our plan is to read both books and start our group discussion in early to mid-September. Near the end of September we’ll post our discussion. We hope you’ll join us in reading one and/or both of the books. Share your thoughts with us next month or on Twitter as you read. We’re excited to jump into these books and look forward to hearing from you.
wish
A Wish After Midnight

Fifteen-year old Genna Colon believes wishes can come true. When Genna flees into the garden late one night, she makes a fateful wish and finds herself instantly transported back in time to Civil War-era Brooklyn.

 

door

The Door at the Crossroads

Do you know what your heart most desires?

One summer night, Genna Colon makes a fateful wish that sends her and her boyfriend Judah spiraling through time. They land hours apart in the city of Brooklyn—and in the middle of the Civil War. Genna is taken to the free Black community of Weeksville, but Judah suffers a harsher fate and is sent to the South as a slave. Judah miraculously makes his way back to Genna, but the New York City Draft Riots tear them apart once more. When Genna unexpectedly returns to her life in contemporary Brooklyn, she vows to fulfill the mandate of sankofa: “go back and fetch it.” But how will she summon the power she needs to open the door that leads back to Judah?


 

If you want to know more, check out this great review from Lyn Miller-Lachmann.

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New Release

This week we found one new release. As always, if you know of any we missed, please post it in the comments.

darkestThe Darkest Hour by Caroline Tung Richmond
Scholastic Press

Never underestimate a pretty face.

My name is Lucie Blaise.

I am sixteen years old.

I have many aliases, but I am none of the girls you see.

What I am is the newest agent of the CO-7.

And we are here to take down Hitler.

After the Nazis killed my brother on the North African front, I volunteered at the Office of Strategic Services in Washington, DC, to do my part for the war effort. Only instead of a desk job at the OSS, I was tapped to join the Clandestine Operations — a secret espionage and sabotage organization of girls. Six months ago, I was deployed to German-occupied France to gather intelligence and eliminate Nazi targets.

My current mission: Track down and interrogate a Nazi traitor about a weapon that threatens to wipe out all of Western Europe. Then find and dismantle the weapon before Hitler detonates it. But the deeper I infiltrate, the more danger I’m in. Because the fate of the free world hangs in the balance, and trusting the wrong person could cause millions of lives to be lost. Including my own. — Cover image and summary via Goodreads

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Review: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame

wayTitle: The Way to Game the Walk of Shame
Author: Jenn P. Nguyen
Publisher: Swoon Reads
Genre: Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Review copy: Digital ARC via Netgalley
Availability: On shelves now

Summary: Taylor Simmons is screwed.

Things were hard enough when her single-minded dedication to her studies earned her the reputation of being an Ice Queen, but after getting drunk at a party and waking up next to bad boy surfer Evan McKinley, the entire school seems intent on tearing Taylor down with mockery and gossip.

Desperate to salvage her reputation, Taylor persuades Evan to pretend they’re in a serious romantic relationship. After all, it’s better to be the girl who tames the wild surfer than just another notch on his surfboard.

Review: The summary was accurate. There is a playboy and a fake relationship. Most readers would have an understanding of what they are getting into with this one. I was looking for something light, humorous and good for a vacation. That was exactly the type of book Nguyen created.

Taylor is set on getting into Columbia and studying law. She’s been working all through high school to keep her grades up and she is extremely studious. She’s also someone who is terrified of getting in trouble. Appearances are important so when she wakes up in Evan McKinley’s room, she is devastated. When her best friend Carly convinces her that capitalizing on the situation will be a better solution that trying to ignore it, Taylor comes up with the plan of the fake dating. Carly also informs Taylor that, “the innocent debutante always reforms the rake.”

Like romantic comedies at the movies, if the audience is willing to suspend their disbelief, this type of story is fun and entertaining. I was totally ready for entertainment when I read this so it worked for me. There were a few things that may bother other readers though. If your pet peeve is when people say someone is “so different from all the other girls,” readers beware. This is a comment made at least four times in various forms. Love triangles not your thing? There is a bit of that here too. If the trope of a fake relationship seems too unbelievable, then again, it’s probably not the best fit, but if you are looking for a little bit of silliness and a light romance, this is a great book for the day. It’s 336 pages, but they fly by, as Taylor and Evan learn more about each other and themselves. The romance is sweet and has plenty of banter. I do appreciate banter.

Recommendation: If you’re looking for a light romance, get it soon.

 

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